Maldonado-Otto’s passion for students sparks pick for OSU-Tulsa teaching award
As the first member of her Mexican family born in the U.S., Dr. Claudia Maldonado-Otto knows what it is to be considered outside the norm.
“I have always been in the minority in the US and that has given me a great opportunity to view the world differently,” she said. “I don’t consider myself different but at times I reminded by society that I am not the norm. This drives me to find ways for others to learn about people with differences and to incorporate a more welcoming and inclusive setting in my classes.”
As clinical assistant professor of teaching, learning and educational sciences at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, inclusivity is the lens through which she sees the world and one that has set her apart in the eyes of her students and her university.
Maldonado-Otto was honored as 2018 recipient of the OSU-Tulsa President’s Outstanding Faculty Award for Teaching. She was nominated for the recognition by a student who extolled her ability to reach students where they are, whether they are struggling or sailing through college.
She started her career journey as a high school teacher in special education, moved to a state post as disability services specialist and is now a professor whose expertise and research area is in teaching children with disabilities, most specifically autism.
As Maldonado-Otto is sometimes singled out for her minority status, she recognizes that people with disabilities are also marginalized.
“Disability is simply, in my opinion, a different culture. People with disabilities should be regarded as part of the norm and not the exception,” Maldonado-Otto said. “They are simply navigating the world the best way they know how.”
This philosophy sums up her approach to teaching anyone regardless of difference.
Many of her students are nontraditional with full-time jobs and families to care for as they work through a college degree program. As a nontraditional student while earning master’s and doctorate degrees, Maldonado-Otto fully understands how overwhelming the load can be.
Adult students also need recognition and reinforcement as they work to better their lives and advance in their careers.
“I am a partner with the students, not simply a person standing in front of the room. As an educator, I realize that our words and actions must reach not only the minds but the hearts of our students,” Maldonado-Otto said. “I am always searching for ways to show my students that their words and tasks matter not in singularity but they have a rippling effect through service to others.”
OSU’s land-grant mission of community outreach is one of Maldonado-Otto’s core values. As faculty sponsor for the OSU-Tulsa chapter of the Hispanic Student Association, the El Paso, Texas native views the role of HSA and its members to teach others about their culture while giving back to their community.
The group volunteers as English-to-Spanish translators for the Coalition of Hispanic Organizations health fair and the American Heart Association’s Tulsa Vestido Rojo conference. They also work to benefit underprivileged children in Peru as well as preschoolers in north Tulsa.
This desire to serve others circles back to her dedication to children with disabilities.
“To me, children with disabilities simply need someone to see their beauty and strengths rather than their deficits and struggles,” Maldonado-Otto said. “I like the path I am on. Higher education gives me a balance of instruction and research. By teaching my adult students how to teach, I feel I am having an even greater impact on children with disabilities who, like everyone else, are people just trying to make sense of the world they live in.”